After reporting Tuesday that the Lafayette Housing Authority had called for multiple investigations into theft allegations at the affordable housing development Villa Gardens, The IND was able to confirm that the FBI and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are already on the case.
“The FBI is working in close concert with HUD investigators to vet out all of the allegations of impropriety,” says FBI agent Don Bostic. “The investigation is active and ongoing,” adds Bostic, who supervises the FBI’s Lafayette office.
Marta Metelko, public affairs officer for HUD’s Office of Inspector General in Washington, D.C., one of the entities the LHA asked to look into the matter, would not comment Wednesday on any potential involvement of HUD’s OIG in the investigation. Metelko, however, did say that the OIG’s audit plan (which would indicate which projects are being scrutinized) will be published on HUD’s website, hudoig.gov in mid-October.
A different HUD spokeswoman confirmed to The IND a day earlier that LHA had asked three different agencies to look into allegations that Villa Gardens’ construction process was mismanaged and that materials from it may have been used improperly.
HUD Public Affairs Officer Patricia Campbell, who works out of the Ft. Worth, Texas, office, says that on Sept. 9, Katie Anderson, the chief operating officer of the LHA, sent separate letters to three investigative agencies as a result of The IND’s September story, “The House that LPTFA Built?” View those letters here.
Campbell says the letters were sent to the HUD Office of the Inspector General, District Attorney Mike Harson and the Louisiana Legislative Auditor asking them to look into the allegations of misappropriation of building materials and mismanagement at the Villa Gardens low-income housing tax credit project “as outlined in [The IND’s] article.”
“They will decide whether they will proceed or not,” Campbell says.
“I have not seen any such letter since we were closed Friday the 6th for our move [from the parish courthouse to the Whitney Bank building downtown],” Harson wrote in an email response Tuesday. “Therefore I cannot say what our role will be.”
The legislative auditor’s office did not respond to a telephone inquiry about whether it had received the letter and what it plans to do with it.
|Development consultant Greg Gachassin|
As part of a year-long investigation, The IND interviewed several subcontractors who worked on the publicly funded Villa Gardens, Cypress Trails and Villas at Angel Point projects, all of which were overseen by development consultant Greg Gachassin of The Cartesian Company and constructed by general contractor Bennett Builders. The three projects were funded with federal low-income housing tax credits awarded — through what is supposed to be a fiercely competitive process — by the Louisiana Housing Corporation, a state agency for which Gachassin once served as chairman of the board.
LHA was only involved with Villa Gardens, a complex of 43 single-family homes built in 2011 in the 500 block of Patterson Street, which is why it has asked for an investigation into that project.
Cypress Trails, a complex built on the corner of Sophie and Moss streets near muni golf course, is an elderly housing project spearheaded by the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority, an entity Gachassin also once chaired. In 2012 Gachassin was charged with violating the state’s Code of Ethics for entering into contracts with LPTFA while serving on its board and again after leaving it. The ethics code requires that board members wait two years before either entering into contracts with their former boards or benefitting financially from doing business with the entity. Read more here.
Although the LHA was originally involved in Villas at Angel Point, which was constructed on property owned by one of Lafayette businessman John S. Ford’s entities, HUD pulled out of the development after gross mismanagement at the local housing authority led to a federal investigation of its operations (which is ongoing). The Cartesian Company remained as project consultant, with John S. Ford as a partner/member of Angel Development LLC. Ford signed the Developer Services Agreement for Villas at Angel Point, which means he is the developer, according to the Louisiana Housing Corporation.
|Photo by Robin May|
|LPTFA Chairman John Arceneaux, left, has not responded to The IND's
inquiry about whether the public trust is looking into allegations of mismanagement/misappropriation of materials at its affordable housing development Cypress Trails. At right is board attorney Richard Becker
State records show that The Cartesian Company’s Kacee Thompson submitted a tax-credit application to the state in September 2010 for Villas at Angel Point. In February 2011 the $6.8 million elderly housing project was awarded $734,000 in Go Zone tax-credit funding (a type of low-income housing tax credit) for each of the following 10 years.
Subcontractors who spoke to The IND on the condition their names not be used allege mismanagement of the construction process for these affordable housing developments — they say it was unclear whether Gachassin or Bennett Builders was the contractor and that both were constantly trying to renegotiate prices with subs. One source believes off-the-books payments and lower-than-negotiated payments he witnessed were made to subcontractors in an attempt to complete the jobs below the costs that were submitted to the Louisiana Housing Corporation to secure the low-income housing tax credits.
|Photo by Robin May|
|A pallet of bricks matching those used to construct the home
at 101 Shady Ridge Lane still sat behind the private residence
in the summer of 2012.
Potentially most damaging, however, and what is likely the allegations that got the attention of federal investigators, the sources say a private residence at 101 Shady Ridge Lane was largely built with materials from those federally subsidized housing developments. Two subcontractors say they personally witnessed bricks being moved from one public job site — and have credible knowledge that material was either moved from other publicly funded job sites or improperly charged to them — to 101 Shady Ridge Lane.
That home is occupied by Riley Fielder, Greg Gachassin’s business partner in Park Group Construction, and Bennett Builders’ head superintendent on all three of the aforementioned developments.
Until earlier this year the home Fielder lives in, located in Fountain View subdivision, which Gachassin developed off Kaliste Saloom Road behind his Wingate by Wyndham hotel several years ago, was owned by another Gachassin company, The Lauren Group. In March 2013 the house was sold to an entity called “Gachassin Law Firm Profit Sharing 401K Plan for the Benefit of Nicholas Gachassin, Jr.” for $250,000, according to records in the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court’s office. The cash sale was signed by Thompson, who is listed in the court document as an authorized rep of The Lauren Group.
LPTFA Chairman John Arceneaux has yet to respond to an email request asking him what, if any, action the public trust will take in light of the allegations.
The trust continues to do business with Gachassin.
Read “The House that LPTFA Built?” here.
The board hopes to recover all fees paid, plus one-half, along with what could amount to hundreds of thousands in additional penalties.
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